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Faced with threats from Xi Jinping, the rebellion of Philippine President Marcos Junior L'Express

Faced with threats from Xi Jinping, the rebellion of Philippine President Marcos Junior L'Express

 


“Daddy’s son” but also the son of a dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, known as “Bongbong Marcos”, is making a name for himself on the international scene. In power for almost two years, the son of Imelda known in his time for his 3,000 pairs of shoes and of Ferdinand Marcos (autocrat from 1965 to 1986) has chosen to no longer remain silent in the face of provocations from the Chinese coast guard who regularly violate space maritime of his country, the Philippines. The last incident dates back to March 23 on Second Thomas Shoal, an atoll located south of the Spratlys, where the wreck of a rusting warship, the Sierra Madreplaced there by Manila in 1999.

Beijing claims almost all maritime space

Since an international arbitration in 2016, this large coral reef belongs to the Philippines, which stations twelve soldiers there to mark its sovereignty. This does not prevent Beijing from claiming, again and again, ownership in an increasingly aggressive manner. That day, a ship supplying the Philippine military was attacked by an imposing Chinese coast guard with water cannons, injuring three of them. This is followed by demonstrations in Manila and a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Collision between a Chinese coast guard ship (D) and a Filipino boat Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, October 23, 2023

Collision between a Chinese coast guard ship (D) and a Filipino boat Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea, October 23, 2023

/ afp.com/Handout

However, this hostile act is only the next intimidation in a long series, notably in the Spratly archipelago where China has already beaten up 7 atolls to turn them into artificial inhabited ones which serve as military bases. Elsewhere in the China Sea, where Beijing claims 90% of the maritime space, other conflicts oppose the Middle Kingdom, Tawan, Vietnam, Malaysia and even Indonesia.

READ ALSO: What if tomorrow China invaded Tawan? A scenario that would change the face of the world

While his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022) moved closer to Beijing (without, however, breaking the military agreements with Washington), Bongbong Marcos made a spectacular about-face. The 66-year-old president has launched a policy of “transparency” (“Transparency Strategy”) which aims to give as much publicity as possible to Beijing's provocations. “This new way of managing the Chinese problem is very appreciated by all the countries in the region which, until now, kept a low profile after each incident involving China for fear of offending Beijing,” notes Cleo Paskal, Indo-Pacific specialist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “Even India is closely watching how “Bongbong” is rebelling against Xi Jinping.”

READ ALSO: “The Chinese are everywhere”: has the United States already lost the battle in the Pacific?

The Filipinos stand all the more firmly on their position because they know that international law is on their side since the international legal arbitration of 2016. The Chinese, for their part, assert, without providing proof, to rely on verbal commitments from former President Duterte: during the time he was in power, he would have, claims Beijing, made territorial concessions. The only certainty: at the time, China held out investments that never materialized. Towards the end of his term, Duterte had already begun to distance himself from Xi Jinping. Overall, the Filipinos appreciate the nationalist posture of their new president, Fernidant Marcos Jr., who, moreover, is making a spectacular double rapprochement with the United States and Japan.

“We are witnessing the double awakening of Japan and the Philippines”

The historic alliance between Manila and Washington, linked by a mutual defense agreement since 1951, has indeed made great strides forward since Bongbong came to power thanks, in particular, to the decision of the Biden administration to re-engage in the Pacific. On April 11, an unprecedented trilateral summit was held in Washington bringing together the United States, Japan (125 million inhabitants) and the Philippines (115 million inhabitants). “The Filipinos have done more to defend their security in the last year and a half than they ever did before,” said American expert on the region Grant Newsham.

“The other big surprise,” continues this former intelligence officer who lived in Honolulu (Hawa) and Tokyo (Japan), “was the strong speech by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Never before had Japan spoken on China in a so clearly.” We are therefore witnessing the simultaneous awakening of Japan and the Philippines, which is not unrelated to this “awakening” being geographically located to the north and south of Tawan, the true epicenter of tensions in the South China Sea. “It is unusual for three countries at the same time to so clearly designate Beijing as the source of all the region's problems,” Newsham further notes.

It is an understatement to say that things are moving in the region. A bilateral agreement has just been signed between Manila and Tokyo. In addition, there are those that these Asian capitals have signed with Washington. Furthermore, India has just delivered long-range supersonic missiles to the Philippines in order to better defend itself against China. For its part, Japan could soon join the Aukus military agreement linking Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. At least that is what these three Anglo-Saxon allies affirmed at the beginning of April: Tokyo is now considered an essential partner in countering China's influence in the Indo-Pacific. Tokyo, which has been the leading Asian economic investor in the Philippines since the Second World War, is strengthening its aid to Manila by providing coast guard, military advice and intelligence.

As for Bongbong Marcos, he has just authorized access to four additional bases (three in the north of the country) for American planes, in addition to the five already accessible to the US Air Force. Finally, last but not leastthe Filipinos are organizing from April 22 to May 10 the second annual giant military maneuvers called Balikatan (“shoulder to shoulders”, in Tagalog) bringing together 16,700 soldiers from 14 countries, including France which is participating with its frigate Vendmiaire part of its home port Nouma (New Caledonia).

“Between China and the Philippines, things are taking a worrying turn; there was another maritime skirmish last week,” notes sinologist Jean-Pierre Cabestan, researcher at the Asia Center in Paris. “The Chinese,” he continues, “are very unhappy with the Marcos-Biden rapprochement because they thought they had put the Philippines in their pocket under Duterte.” However, as Joe Biden reminded Washington on April 11, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951 between the United States and the Philippines is “clad in armor” (battleship). Cabestan concludes: “Given that nationalism is strengthening everywhere in China, Japan, the Philippines and no one is prepared to give up the slightest inch of ground, the risk of escalation is indeed real.”

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